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Posted July 7, 2009

He-Crab, She-Crab

When writing about childhood memories, digging deep into the crock of the past was sometimes difficult. It took take awhile to remember, but eventually the dust was blown away and the cobwebs removed and I was churning. Once into the rhythm of the work of "remembering," similar memories floated their way to the top like clabber. That's when the separation began and - Voila! I was making butter - my story. A picture could help trigger those memories while I was chanting "come butter come."


When I was in junior high, during summers my parents loaded up our pop-up camper and took the family to Myrtle Beach's Lake Arrowhead campground in South Carolina. We were allowed to bring friends. Friends and family towed campers or tents and camped alongside us. We managed to get the same spot closest to the beach. There was usually a breeze off the ocean, and once, even a water spout that turned rogue tornado when it hit land, tearing up jack. Even though Mother and Dad stretched sheets of plastic over the large poles sticking up in the sand to keep it from blowing into our outside kitchen, we still had a few granules in every pot dish we ate. But what fun we had!

It was on the beach we learned the art of crabbing. No art really, we just ran up and down the shoreline at night with a flashlight trying to catch scurrying crabs who unwittingly, and with a fight, landed in the boiling pot along with spices and lemon juice. The air was always rent with squeals, screams, and laughter. Again, our crab boils were great fun!

Later, when my own children were in elementary school, we were taught by some friends who had a home at Jekyll Island how to catch a crab the lazy-man's way. We tied half a chicken to a string, threw it out into the ocean, and drove the string into the sand with a stake. After several minutes we reeled the chicken in and had several crabs feasting on dinner who in turn became our supper. Worked for me!

And then, I finally experienced She-crab Soup in Charleston. As a kid, I never thought about a crab being a "he" or a "she." Made sense. I just never questioned what I was eating at the beach. It wasn't like turning a puppy or cat over and checking. With a crab, I had no reason at the time to look and didn't know the first place to examine.

But now that I'm older and think about different things, I can't help but wonder who has the "crab checking" job and how much it pays.

Fortunately, when researching this - ahem - subject, I found that the gender of crabs is easily identified by the shape of the crab's abdomen: male crabs have T-shaped abdomens, while those of the immature females are triangular, and those of the mature female, hemispherical. Male crabs are larger, thus more meat. Mature females also carry their fertilized roe in a yellow sponge outside their shells. Mature females without such sponges are likely to have roe inside - and this roe is what is used in contemporary versions of the soup, creating a different taste. So, actually, it's not a rocket science job, but still a worthy one.

Now, I've made myself hungry.

Road trip!

She Crab Soup Recipe

2 tablespoons butter, divided

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

1 1/2 cups half & half cream

4 teaspoons finely grated onion

3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and white pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest (rind)

1 1/2 pounds flaked blue crab meat*

1/4 cup crab roe**

3 tablespoons dry sherry

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

* If you live in parts of the country where blue crab is not available, other types of crabmeat, such as Dungeness, snow, king, or rock crab, may be substituted.

** Two crumbled hard-cooked egg yolks may be substituted for the crab roe.

In a large, heavy pot over low heat, melt butter; add flour and blend until smooth. Slowly add milk and half & half cream, stirring constantly with a whisk; cook until thickened. Add onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt, white pepper, mace, cayenne pepper, and lemon zest. Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, add crabmeat and crab roe or crumbled hard-cooked egg yolks; simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes (if the soup appears about to boil, remove the pan from the heat for a minute or so, then return). Remove from heat and add sherry, stirring to mix. Let sit for 3 to 4 minutes before serving.

To serve, pour the soup into individual heated soup bowls, dividing the crabmeat and roe equally into each bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings. ~ Recipe courtesy of Linda Stradley

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